Before the idea behind my novel, Tempesta’s Dream, ever stirred in my mind, I travelled to Milan with my wife. We strolled the streets of Milan, sat at its cafes, saw La Scala, the famous opera house, the Galleria, the first shopping mall ever created, and the Duomo, the great Cathedral of Milan.
I believe that an author’s main objective in historical fiction is to transport the reader to another place and/or another time, and to do so skillfully. Literary people will call this “escapism.” However, with that objective, there comes a responsibility that the author has toward the reader. The author must take the time to describe accurately the place or setting that the author is using in the novel.
As I said, I walked the streets of Milan. So, it was easy for me to grasp that atmosphere when writing Tempesta’s Dream. It is reflected in some of the reviews I have received for the novel. For example:
“We can smell aromas as the author takes us past cafes and shops on the streets of Milan.” –Amazon Reviewer
“LoCoco skillfully brings to life the streets of Milan, so much that I could almost taste the espresso and smell the flowers on the cafe tables. Overall, just a very interesting, intelligent and believable book – 5 stars!” – Amazon Reviewer
“The author paints a vivid picture of Milanese life, populated with colorful denizens (most notably, retiree Alfredo, and Isabella, Giovanni’s soulmate) for whom the passion of opera is universal. Tempesta’s Dream’ will transport and inspire.” – Amazon Reviewer
However, in my novel, there is one place in Milan which comes to the forefront in the story. That place is the Casa di Riposo, or as it is called by locals, the Casa Verdi. The Casa Verdi in Milan stands as a towering tribute to the legacy of one of the greatest opera composers the world has ever known – Giuseppe Verdi.
Built in 1896 by Verdi, the Casa Verdi is a retirement home for retired singers, composers and musicians. Verdi’s dream was to build a home where musicians could retire in peace and be surrounded by others who at one time in their life were all involved in the arts. In his Last Will and Testament, Verdi granted all of his future royalties from all of his operas to help support the Casa di Riposo. Verdi said of this magical place, “The Casa di Riposo is my greatest work,” which is quite a statement when you think of his life’s output of his musical works. It is also at the Casa Verdi where Verdi and his wife are buried.
The Casa Verdi plays a major role in the novel as it is at the retirement home that our young protagonist, Giovanni Tempesta, pursuing his dream to become an opera tenor, finds Alfredo del Monte, a retired, blind opera singer, with a secretive past, who takes him on as a student. Yet it is the Casa di Riposo and the residents who leave there that actually takes a central place in the story.
Had I known that the Casa Verdi would one day take a part in a story I was going to write then I definitely would have made it a must stop. But, sad to say, I did not.
Which brings us to the point of this guest post. How can an author achieve realism in historical fiction when dealing with a real, existing place without actually visiting the location? In other words, how does one transport someone to a place that the author has not visited personally?
Of course, in the perfect world, an author would call his publisher, say I need to hop on a plane to get to Milan for two weeks to soak up the atmosphere and walk around the Casa Verdi, and then board that plane and enjoy a glorious two weeks with a pen, a journal and a camera, walking around the Casa Verdi and interviewing residents the whole time. Well, that will not happen for most authors. And it certainly did not happen to me.
So what does an author do?
I think there are three things an author does when dealing with creating the atmosphere for a real place for which they have never seen personally.
RESEARCH. RESEARCH. AND RESEARCH: Read everything possible that you can find on the subject. Find pictures of the place and study them constantly. Look for videos online. Talk to people who may have visited on a trip. For historical fiction writers, like myself, this is the best part of writing. Discovering details about a place, all the while trying to figure out what and how you are going to incorporate it into the story.
USE YOUR OWN LIFE EXPEREINCES: The Casa di Riposo is a nursing home. My wife, for ten years, was a nursing home administrator in New Orleans. When I would go to her work, I would pay attention to the residents, the interaction of the staff and the residents, and the general feel of the place. True, I was not in Milan, but at least I could get a feel for how people react to situations, for that is one thing to understand, all people, no matter where from, react the same, with slight deviations for cultural reasons.
IMAGINATION: After steps 1 and 2, now the real fun begins. You let your imagination run wild, all the time staying within the parameters of your research and own life experiences. And by that I mean, if the Casa di Riposo has more than one floor (which it does) do not make the building a one-story building.
By following those steps, it is hoped that a reader will completely be taken with the descriptions of the place, and in their own mind, they are sure that you must have spent many days at the locale to be able to describe it so well – when in reality the author never stepped a foot inside.
And even more important, will people who know the locale agree with the way the author described the place. There can be no greater joy for a writer to have a person very familiar with that location depicted in the novel to not only love the work, but acknowledge that the author nailed the description of the place instead of just throwing their hands up in disgust.
For me, after following the above steps, I had a great result, which provided me with great sense of relief. I received an email from the current President of the Casa Verdi who stated: “I offer you my warmest congratulations on your beautiful work that truly enhances the Casa Verdi and its’ residents.”
That certainly makes writing fun. So, in closing, for you readers out there, make sure you congratulate writers who do a great job describing locales you know well. And for the authors out there, live up to your responsibility, and take the time to get to know everything you can about a place, even if you have never seen it.
Author of Tempesta’s Dream – A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera
Summary for Tempesta’s Dream:
Tempesta’s Dream is the story of an aspiring opera singer coming of age in Milan; a tender and moving love story; a testament to the bonds of friendship; and, at its core, a tribute to the beauty, majesty and miracle of opera.
Giovanni Tempesta always dreamed of becoming an opera tenor and one day singing from the stage of the La Scala Opera House in his hometown of Milan, Italy. But with no real training, his dream has little chance for fulfillment . . . One day, he meets and immediately falls in love with Isabella Monterone, a dark-haired beauty, whose father, a very rich and powerful Milanese Judge, refuses to allow his daughter to date a penniless musician . . . At the lowest part of his life, Giovanni comes upon the Casa di Riposo, a rest home for musicians established by the great opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi . . . It is at the Casa Verdi that Giovanni meets Alfredo del Monte, a blind, retired opera singer with a secretive past who gradually becomes his mentor . . . Could Alfredo be the one person who could assist Giovanni in finding the break he needs? Or is Giovanni destined to be on the cusp of reaching his life long dream, only to find failure? . . . Tempesta’s Dream, at its core, is an Italian opera love story. The author tells the story simply and swiftly with an ending that is both an emotional and poignant moment of both “amicizia e amore” (friendship and love.)
Everyone knows about gelato in Italy. Walk around an Italian town late at night, and watch all the visitors and locals enjoying their gelato. “Ahh, I love Italian desserts,” you will hear.
While this is true, Sicilian desserts are on a whole different level – of course, in my humble opinion. How blessed are we in New Orleans to have a specialty gelato and dessert shop whose owners hail from the island of Sicily. The Brocato family came over from Cefalu, Sicily at the turn of the century. Angelo Brocato set up his gelato shop in the French Quarter. The rest as they say was history. The Sicilians who flocked to New Orleans to find a better life, loved visiting Brocato’s. Soon, Brocato’s moved to its present day location on Carrolton Avenue in Mid-City New Orleans.
Of course, they have gelato. But their other desserts are just as delicious. Spumoni, Cassata, Bisquit Tortoni, Torrancino, and of course, Cannolis -to just name my favorites.
Next time you find yourself in New Orleans, or, if you are a local and have some time to kill in Mid-City, step back in time and enter Brocato’s. You will not regret it.
As we approach Veterans Day tomorrow, I just wanted to send out my prayers and thankful thoughts to all Veterans who laid their life on the line for the protection of Democracy. To live a life of service to others and to Country is well worth remembrance from all Americans.
Thank you for your service.
I just needed to share this video of Madama Butterfly. This is the great duet that ends act 1. The video itself is somewhat poor, but watchable. The performance is stellar, and worth the trouble.
The performance is from New York City Opera in 1982 with Judith Haddon as Madama Butterfly and the American tenor, Jerry Hadley, as Pinkerton.
This is a fantastic, moving performance. Their voices match each other in beauty. Just sit back and enjoy.
In Italian culture, a curse has always played a major role in society and the means by which bad luck (or worse) is brought upon another. A curse placed on someone was not taken lightly. It kindled the superstitious fears of individuals. Italians placed curses many ways, with the most common in the form of the Malocchi0 (Evil Eye).
So of course, curses play in role in all facets of Italian culture, including opera and film. Here are just a few brief examples.
In Verdi’s Rigoletto, the Court Jester, Rigoletto, who was cursed at the beginning of the opera by the father of a young woman, remembers the curse as his own daughter dies.
Or in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, there is Santuzza’s curse to Turridu which makes your hair stand up as she wishes him a terrible Easter.
And lastly, we turn to film. Moonstruck of course, which shows the Malocchio is alive and well in the Italian-American societies.
So the next time you are watching a film or an opera in which Italians play a role, pay attention and see if they discuss a curse or the evil eye.
Author of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna
This month we celebrate the birth of Giuseppe di Stefano, an opera singer from Sicily, who sang all over the world including Milan, New York, Vienna and even in New Orleans. At the very start of his musical studies, which began around the time of WWII, the young tenor was drafted into the Italian Army. He became known around camp as the singing soldier, where he entertained the troops with Neapolitan love ballads. His battalion was soon awarded the glorious opportunity of being shipped off to the Russian front, but thanks to the regimental doctor who loved opera, di Stefano was given a certificate that he could not serve on the front line. He stayed behind singing to the troops.
Then in 1943, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. Germany invaded Sicily and started rounding up Italian troops and sending them to POW camps.
Di Stefano fled to Switzerland and stayed in a refugee camp. While there, he began singing and the camp’s inhabitants were much impressed. The camp commander allowed him to leave the camp on occasion and he began to sing all over Switzerland. He sang using the pseudonym, Nino Florio, to avoid problems with the Germans. In 1944, a priest heard him singing in a cafe and he put him in touch with the head of Radio Lussane. He was quickly invited to record with them.
Here is one of his recordings he made in 1944 from Manon by Massenet. Di Stefano is only 24 years old. He is still two years away from his debut in opera and three years away from his first appearance at La Scala in the same role heard in this excerpt. He would thereafter explode onto the opera scene.
This is the voice that would soon take over Italy and the world and would later become the main partner to the great Maria Callas. What a joy to have this recording of such a young, gifted singer. Even here, you can hear the perfect diction, the unabashed passionate tone, and style. This was the voice that Pavarotti, and in particular, Jose Carreras, would try to emulate.
Listen and enjoy Nino Florio aka Giuseppe di Stefano.
Continuing a recap of our Italian vacation, Part 2 will look at our visit to the island of Capri and the ancient ruins of the town of Pompeii.
Capri, known as the playground of the Emperors, is an island accessible from the city of Sorrento by boat. Surrounded by crystal clear blue water, Capri is stunningly beautiful. You arrive in the Port, known locally as Marina Grande. A Fannicula railroad leads you up to the main square of Capri. You can also take an uphill walk that will lead you the square as well. There you will find shopping, food, and high-end stores. But most of all, you will be awarded some of the best views in all of Italy. Here are a few pics of Capri.
The Blue Grotto was closed when we were there but will add a picture here as it is a must do if you are able.
It’s easy to see why there are ruins of palaces of the emperors on the island, who insisted on spending long periods of time living on the island.
Pompeii is the ancient town that sits at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, which always looms in the background as a majestic reminder of the absolute horror that occurred in 79 AD when the volcano erupted, entombing the city and its inhabitants. I highly recommend a tour guide who can lead you through the vast streets of Pompeii. It’s a fascinating insight into the way people of that time lived. I just love being able to walk these same streets and enter the same buildings that people did so long ago. But as I said, a tour guide can really bring it to life. If you just can’t find a tour guide, then I would recommend downloading Rick Steve’s Audio Europe which offers a great walking tour of the main sites while you listen on your phone.
Here are a few pics first of Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples from Sorrento ….
and then Pompeii itself.
Capri and Pompeii – A stunning, must see, part of Southern Italy.
Author of A Song of Bellafortuna.
Having just returned from a trip with my family that took me from Soutern Italy all the way to Lake Como and then over the Swiss Alps into Germany and beautiful Salzburg, I will spend the next few blogs discussing a few spots on our trip with a few key insights, not from an expert, but just an ordinary traveler. I hope you find it rewarding.
Day 1 and 2. Paestum Italy
Paestum was used as the launching pad to Capri and Pompei. Paestum is a small city in the Campania region of Italy. It is mosty known for two things. Buffalo Mozzarella and the most intact Greek ruins in all of Italy.
We visited a Buffalo Mozzarello farm where you were treated to a taste of the most freshest Mozzarello you will ever have. I will state it was not my cup of tea. I think I like my Mozzarella a little more aged. However, in the little cafe, I had a cannoli that was to die for. Here are a few pics from the farm.
As for the Greek ruins, I did not get the chance to go see them while the site was open. However, I highly recommend going to see them at night. I got the hotel staff to bring a group of us by van to the site where you were able to see the ruins spectacularly lit up up night. It was a magical night and is a must do if you find yourself in this area.
Latly, Paestum has wonderful beaches surrounded by mountains in the distance. Great place to walk to in the evenings if you don’t have time to visit during the day.
Paestum: A fascinating little place that if you have the chance, visit if you can.
I am often asked why does opera play such an important role in my novels.
To answer that question, I will first turn to my literary mentor, J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien put it best in giving advice to writers when he said to let your interests drive your writing. Tolkien loved languages and mythology. That was where his interest lay. He wrote Lord of the Rings so that he could create his own world, his own language, and his own mythology. He followed his interests. I take what Tolkien said, but add one further clarification. Yes, write about your interests, but most importantly; make sure you are passionate about that interest. After all, writing is a long, arduous process, which requires dedication, and to write about things you don’t really care about, makes it even harder. One passion in my life is opera.
I grew up in New Orleans in a very large Sicilian-American family. Music was always around my home. My earliest memories were watching Mario Lanza movies with my family, where that glorious voice of his sang songs in a language that I did not understand, but touched something deep in my soul.
When I got to high school, I purchased my first opera recording, Tosca by Puccini.
The rest as they say was history. A lifelong love affair was born.
Over the years, more and more opera recordings were purchased and I went to some of the greatest opera houses around the world and saw some of the greatest singers, including Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras. I also started to develop a keen interest in the history and lore of opera composers and singers.
All of which brings us to a night many years ago, when my son was first born. I stayed up with him late one night and when I went to bed, an idea of a story came to me about a young singer growing up in Milan. This story, Tempesta’s Dream, allowed me to share my love of opera as well as the history of opera to others.
Unbeknownst to me when I first started writing, I had found a niche. I became in the literary genre world – an Italian Historical Fiction author. Not bad for a guy from New Orleans.
Of course, after finishing that first novel, my thoughts turned to writing a second one. So again I turned to opera.
Enrico Caruso has long fascinated me. He is, after all, regarded as the greatest opera singer who ever lived. There was a wonderful biography written on his life by his son. I remember vividly the story about his wife running off with his chauffeur and Caruso, being humiliated, fled Florence to get away from the press.
What would happen if there were a small village in Sicily, who had problems of it’s own. And somehow, Caruso would play a role in the story. Opera once again took center stage in a beautiful story of redemption and sacrifice set among the Sicilian hills. This story eventually became A Song for Bellafortuna.
That novel not only became an Amazon Bestselling novel but is was also awarded the BRAG Medallian award for Historical Fiction.
So, in closing, why opera? Writing gave me an outlet to share my love and knowledge of this glorious art form to others; but to do so not through non-fiction, but through story telling. What a fun journey it has been.